Megan’s Musings: 3 Steps For a Successful Spring
Spring should be fun for your dog
Spring is a time of new growth, more sunshine, warmer temperatures and more people getting outdoors to enjoy the change in seasons. It is generally a happy time that we look forward to. However, Spring can be scary for our dogs. It begins to get busier outside with much more activity from people, animals and machinery. It is easy to forget the impact this can have on our dogs, so this month I am going to share some ideas on how to ensure your dog can enjoy the Spring season as much as you do. Follow these steps to ensure you can both be ready for a Summer full of fun activities together!
Go Slow On a warmer day, life outside is busy. There is a lot of energy as people are excited to be out and enjoying the weather. Nature responds the same way and the wildlife becomes more active. Along with this, skateboards, bicycles, strollers, motorbikes, lawnmowers, sprinklers and so many more machines start to appear. All of these things are normal and many of us enjoy this extra activity. However, all of this can be new and scary to your dog, who may be used to quiet walks or time outside where they may only see the odd person or dog. For some dogs, it causes them to be unfocused, become more excited and struggle with basic cues/focus.
Be patient. Work at your dog’s pace and do not rush out to all of the busyness at first. Start by going at slower times of the day; typically earlier in the morning or late evening. Go to places with lots of space and work at a greater distance at first. Even if your dog has seen all the seasonal changes before, work on offered attention at a distance your dog is comfortable with to start. At Dogma, we always encourage dog owners to be proactive versus reactive. This means ensuring your dog views all of these changes as a positive, and is still comfortable with them, before immersing them right in the middle of it all.
Pay Attention to Your Dog In order for you to know your dog’s comfort level and to ensure you are going at their pace, you need to understand your dog’s body language and pay attention to them. As the season gets busier, and you are going out at quieter times, be sure to watch them and their reaction to the new activities and surroundings. I’ve outlined some key things to watch for below:
- Calming signals: These can be ways for your dog to calm themselves when they are feeling unsure. Some common ones you may see during Spring are sniffing, shake offs, tongue flicks or yawning. We have a full post on calming signals that cover these in more details.
- Signs of stress: Stress does not always have to be bad stress, but it is important to understand when your dog may be responding to the extra activity to ensure you are taking it slow. Watch for excessive panting, shedding or dander, sweaty paws and lowered body language (tail tucked, ears pinned back, weight shifted back and head down).
- The four f’s of stress: These are signs that your dog is overwhelmed and needs some space to slow down and feel more comfortable.
- Flight: If it is too busy, or something startles your dog like a skateboard, they may try to flee the situation.
- Fight: This is the same as the above situation, except your dog may be on leash so they feel like they cannot escape. In this case, they may react by barking, lunging or snapping. They feel cornered and are stressed, so they need space.
- Fool around: This can appear like your dog is distracted or behaving in a silly manner. If they are struggling with their focus and moving quickly, it is a sign that they are over-stimulated and need some space and a quiet area to gain their focus.
- Freeze: They may move slowly or not want to move at all.
If any of these happen, you are too close and need to give your dog space. Contact a reward-based trainer or email [email protected] for assistance. Do not hope this will go away on its own, set your dog up for success and help them feel comfortable.
Give them breaks Don’t keep placing your dog into the new activity every day. If you feel like it is a lot for them, it is ok if they do not get out every day. Play brain games, provide them with interactive toys or chew bones and do some extra training with them if you decide not to walk them. Ensure they are getting enough sleep and give them quiet time in between walks. As the outdoor world gets busier, it will add to your dog’s arousal levels. This elevated state will have their adrenaline levels increased and it is important you give them time to settle. This is the same for when you are out on walks with them. Give them time to smell their surroundings and keep a slower pace. Practice offered attention and work on their focus to help keep them thinking. Monitor arousal levels and keep walks short to start.
Do not get frustrated and/or angry with them. For a distracted dog, this will increase that behaviour and add even more frustration to both of you. For a nervous dog, this will make the situation worse. Set them up for success and have fun. Be patient, go slow and know that you've got some work to do to help them transition.
If your dog has not experienced Spring in the urban environment or if they have fearful/reactive tendencies, I would suggest that you get to classes or work with a trainer to ensure you can introduce things in a controlled environment. Our urbanK9 classes focus on ensuring your dog can be successful in our busy human world. We also have a wide range of clinics to assist with this. Summer is a time to strengthen your relationship and enjoy life with your dog. A few simple steps now can ensure it will be one of the best ones yet!